Feeling 'Game of Thrones' Withdrawal? Get Thee to 'Penny Dreadful.'
High Victorian horror-camp as television replacement therapy.
Now that winter is no longer coming for 10 long months, you might be feeling lost for a show that combines great acting with an immersive world, mysterious characters, bizarre imagery, pulp and drama in equal measures, and byzantine plotting. Penny Dreadful is here to soothe your Game of Thrones jones.
Never heard of it? It’s everything we thought American Horror Story and True Blood would be but weren’t. It’s equal parts period piece, family drama, supernatural creepy-crawlies, classic literature, and pulp. And it casts Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, and Josh Hartnett.
Here are three reasons you should be watching:
1. The characters and the acting. Dalton, in his portrayal of an upper-crust Victorian gentleman and former African explorer, is playing a cross between Tywin Lannister and Skinner, his character from Hot Fuzz: gleefully dickish and superior, but with a layer of pathos. Hartnett, of the perpetual bro-squint and furrowed brow, is at his most Masculinely Troubled as a mysterious Wild West gunslinger. Green steals every scene she’s in with her feral-eyed creepiness. Watching her writhe and speak in tongues is something you probably never though you needed on your TV, but she makes devil possession wickedly fun:
2. The combination of pulp and real drama. Penny Dreadful is true to its namesake; 19th century horror stories that were sold on cheap paper for a penny. Considered trashy and lowbrow back in the day, many are regarded now as Gothic classics. The show dances deftly between gravitas and levity, and it never takes itself too seriously. Yet it still comes up with genuinely moving, sometimes heartbreaking scenes. To show you one would be to spoil it, but here’s a group dynamic scene that illustrates all of the above:
3. The setting and scenery. Jack The Ripper headlines, underground dogfighting rings, sumptuous manner houses, seedy inns, opulent opera houses, dirty alleys, old-timey laboratories — Victorian London here is grand, seamy, and vibrant. The main title sequence carries this spirit, and like GoT’s, it’s perfect for the show:
Technically speaking, the show shouldn’t work. Green and Dalton’s scenery-chewing and Hartnett’s contained style are an unlikely chemistry, and the crossover between horror geeks and Downton Abbey fans makes only the strangest sort of sense. It blends breakneck plotting alongside episodes that work as atmospheric romps, and sets literary characters alongside original characters — Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein fit neatly into the story. Classic literature shouldn’t work alongside True Blood-style batshittery this well.
There is Egyptian mythology. Characters casually quote poetry to each other in one scene and slaughter vampires in the next. Almost every episode includes at least one profoundly bizarre image, like a field of unconscious cows, or a Carrie-meets-The Shining scene in which a ballroom full of oblivious dancers dip and twirl as the ceiling rains blood.
You want an intriguing, strange, surprising, and consistently entertaining new show to fall into, where each episode is a treat to consume at once or puzzle over slowly — whatever your personal pleasure may be? Penny Dreadful should tide you til the seven kingdoms fire back up.